One of the most memorable images Jesus ever gave us was of a shepherd in search of a lost sheep. Even people who have never read the story are likely familiar with the plot. Here is the story from Luke 15, along with the all-important context that precedes it:

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So He told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

The accusation that led to this story is central to our understanding of Jesus’ ministry. It was natural, in an honor-shame society, for the religious leaders to wonder, “How can a man who claims to represent God keep company with these kinds of people?!” In the time of Jesus, “tax-collectors and sinners” made up a category of undesirables on the level of thieves and murderers. In the minds of the Pharisees, a self-respecting religious leader would never associate himself with such people.

Jesus, in response, paints a picture of God’s grace that utterly disarms His opponents. Here are two things Jesus says in this parable that we should rejoice in:

  1. The lost sheep belongs to Him.
    Jesus doesn’t speak of the sinner in an antagonistic way. Quite the opposite! Jesus speaks as a Shepherd who is willing to venture out into the wilderness to reclaim what is precious to Him. The self-righteous Pharisees assumed that God must hate those who are lost, but Jesus communicates loving ownership.
  2. God takes great joy in rescuing those who are lost.
    Often I feel like God must be doing one great big eternal eye-roll over us. Why does He even put up with me and all my sin? But, again, that is not how Jesus pictures the Father at all. Ephesians 2 says “God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, made us alive together with Christ.” Salvation is an act of joy on the part of God, and all of heaven joins Him in the celebration.

At Harvest Church, we first acknowledge that we were all lost sheep, and sinners in need of repentance. We rejoice in our own salvation, knowing that we could have never earned what we have from God. Now, we rejoice to speak and live in a way that reflects the great love and mercy we have received in Jesus.

Simply put: We pursue others with the same love with which God has pursued us. This means selflessly loving our neighbors, serving the needs of others, and reaching the lost.

For further study on this topic, please read: Matthew 5:14-16; Matthew 22:34-40; John 13:34-35; Romans 10:12-15; Romans 12:9-21;  Titus 2:14; James 2:14-17; 1 Peter 2:9-12; 1 Peter 4:10; 1 John 3:16-18